By­gone war­lords feed anti-West­ern at­ti­tudes in Afghanistan

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By Anuj Cho­pra

HERAT, Afghanistan — While the gov­ern­ment bat­tles the Tal­iban in vi­o­lence-in­fested south­ern Afghanistan, for­mer war­lords in the rel­a­tively peace­ful north and west are mov­ing to re­claim their old fief­doms and fos­ter­ing re­sent­ment to­ward the pres­ence of for­eign troops.

Head­ing this chal­lenge to for­eign forces in­clude one-time Tal­iban mem­bers, lead­ers of the Hizb-e-Is­lami party of fugi­tive for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar and dis­en­chanted mu­ja­hedeen com­man­ders of the North­ern Al­liance that helped re­move the Tal­iban from power in 2001.

Mr. Hek­mat­yar — who claims to have helped Osama bin Laden es­cape Tora Bora in 2001 — is thought to be hid­ing some­where in the moun­tain­ous re­gions of north­ern Afghanistan. He re­port­edly sends reg­u­lar mes­sages to in­flu­en­tial for­mer mu­ja­hedeen com­man­ders, invit­ing them to join the fight against West­ern forces.

Mr. Hek­mat­yar “is likely to see his in­flu­ence grow in north­ern and even west­ern Afghanistan as he takes ad­van­tage of the de­creas­ing se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion and al­lies him­self with pow­er­ful re­gional fig­ures,” warned a re­port last month in Jane’s De­fense Weekly.

“This grow­ing chal­lenge to the gov­ern­ment in the north [. . . ] could lead to in­creas­ing in­sta­bil­ity in the pre­vi­ously quiet re­gion in the medium term.”

Mr. Hek­mat­yar’s po­lit­i­cal party, the Hizb-e-Is­lami (HIA), opened sev­eral new of­fices in re­cent months, in­clud­ing one in Herat two months ago.

Hizb-e-Is­lami lead­ers say of­fi­cially that they have no con­tact with Mr. Hek­mat­yar or the United Na­tional Front, an anti-gov­ern­ment al­liance es­tab­lished this year that groups var­i­ous lead­ers of the an­tiSoviet fight of the 1980s.

Be­hind closed doors, how­ever, many HIA lead­ers say they still have clan­des­tine links to Mr. Hek­mat­yar and the Tal­iban.

“Afghanistan is slowly los­ing con­fi­dence in for­eign­ers here,” said Bis­mil­lah Bis­mil, the 55-year-old head of the HIA in Herat who ac­knowl­edged that Mr. Hek­mat­yar might hold sway over some of his party lead­ers. “If they stay here longer, there’ll be wide­spread un­rest.”

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, he said in an in­ter­view, acts as a “pup­pet of the West” and failed to put for­ward a clear vi­sion to bring good gov­er­nance and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment to the north­ern prov­inces.

Mr. Hek­mat­yar is re­ported to have joined forces with Rashid Dos­tum, an eth­nic Uzbek war­lord and a found­ing mem­ber of the United Na­tional Front (UNF). Thir­teen of his fol­low­ers were killed by po­lice dur­ing an anti-gov­ern­ment protest in May.

In March last year, au­thor­i­ties dis­cov­ered a large cache of arms be­long­ing to Mr. Dos­tum’s forces, in­clud­ing a bunker filled with det­o­na­tors, two bunkers con­tain­ing 80 tons of Rus­sian TNT and one bunker with 15,000 anti-per­son­nel and 10,000 anti-tank mines.

With sev­eral NATO coun­tries de­lib­er­ately post­ing their forces in the north to keep them out of harm’s way, an­a­lysts fear that the UNF may turn its weapons on th­ese ill-pre­pared troops while the best NATO com­bat forces are en­gaged in the south.

Mr. Hek­mat­yar and Mr. Dos­tum are cap­i­tal­iz­ing on pub­lic frus­tra­tion over the lack of de­vel­op­ment, even though the Tal­iban re­mains deeply un­pop­u­lar in the re­gion.

“Grow­ing pub­lic frus­tra­tion pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for antigov­ern­ment forces to thrive and re­cruit among the pop­u­la­tion,” said Haroun Mir, who was an aide to Ah­mad Shah Massoud, the mil­i­tary leader as­sas­si­nated by al Qaeda in Septem­ber 2001. Mr. Mir is now a pol­icy an­a­lyst for the In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs Fo­rum in Kabul.

A re­port by the Agency Co­or­di­nat­ing Body for Afghan Re­lief (ACBAR) warned donors in April of an un­bal­anced dis­tri­bu­tion of aid in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (USAID) and Bri­tain’s De­part­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (DFID), by far the largest donors, al­lo­cate more than half their aid to the four restive south­ern prov­inces.

Mas­sive de­vel­op­ment needs in com­par­a­tively stable ar­eas in the north and west are be­ing ig­nored, cre­at­ing “per­verse in­cen­tives for prov­inces to cre­ate in­se­cu­rity to at­tract re­sources,” the re­port said.

As­so­ci­ated Press

French sol­diers take po­si­tion un­der an Afghan gov­ern­ment sign­board, which shows happy chil­dren and then a bus bombed by mil­i­tants, near an ex­plo­sion site on the out­skirts of Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 15. The ex­plo­sion against a two-ve­hi­cle con­voy killed three Ger­man na­tion­als on the out­skirts of the Afghan cap­i­tal, po­lice of­fi­cials said.

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